German green-light for Leopard tanks is 'secondary' issue, Poland says

WARSAW, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Poland will ask Germany for permission to re-export Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but even without it Warsaw could send them as part of a coalition of countries, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday.

The United States and its allies failed during talks in Germany last week to convince Berlin to provide its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, a key demand from Kyiv as it tries to breathe new momentum into its fight against Russian forces.

Poland is pushing for countries who have Leopards to send them to Ukraine, even if Germany does not want to join them. However, re-exporting the German-made tanks would normally require Berlin's approval.

"We will ask for such permission, but this is an issue of secondary importance. Even if we did not get this approval ... we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine", Morawiecki told reporters.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels, Belgium December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

"The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday that Berlin would not stand in the way if Poland sent its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. However, a German government spokesperson said on Monday that Berlin had still not received any requests to authorise the re-export of the tanks.

"Pressure makes sense, because this weekend, the foreign minister of Germany sent a slightly different message that gives a glimmer of hope that not only Germany will not block (sending tanks) but will finally hand over heavy equipment, modern equipment to help Ukraine," Morawiecki said.

Defence analyst Konrad Muzyka said that if tanks were sent without Berlin's consent, a potential consequence could be Germany refusing to supply spare parts for them.

"That is why it is so important from Warsaw's perspective not to step out of line and create a larger coalition," he said. "Because, of course, the political problem for Germany if they wanted to cut off the supply of spare parts would be much bigger if there was a coalition."

Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, additional reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Toby Chopra and Frank Jack Daniel

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